What the new AOA-1 needs as a skill set per OPM HRSES [ersatz]

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Many names have been posed to follow Adm. Dickson at FAA

Fix Boeing and other skills cited to support them

HR analysis of recent FAA surveys suggest otherwise

OPM letterhead


TO: Gautam Raghavan, Deputy Director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office.

FROM: Tiffiny M. Worthy, Senior Advisor for Appointee Leadership Development, Office of Personal(sic) Management

In light of the below article and many other publications speculating about an appropriate successor to the Honorable Steve Dickson, the Office of Personal [sic]Management is offering an analysis of the critical talents, experiences and strengths required for the position of FAA Administrator (AOA-1). It is part of our mission to survey government-wide attitudes and to monitor individual agency surveys (FAA for example has assessed its employee attitude) both generally and within specific organizations).

Based on our HR experts analysis of these measures of the organizational health, the recent major FAA program changes and our awareness of its mission, OPM has the following strong recommendations:


  • The #1 talent needed is experience managing a large organization.
    • The culture is broken. Management faced with some difficult challenges set new job descriptions drastically changing the rank-and-file’s skill sets. The field did not like this.
    • Congress in its oversight role has established that it is the final decision maker on personnel issues, further neutering management.

Congress throwing sand into the management gears

    • To move forward with a chance of implementing the Congressional “reforms”, plus doing what is really needed, requires someone who can relate to those are implementing programs and at the same time deal with the highly visible macro issues.
  • No doubt that technical competence is an essential asset. AOA-1 has to oversee programs as diverse as–
    • aircraft certification (the Boeing ODA is the most visible, but there’s more  in the transition from prescription to performance review of airworthiness),
    • air traffic control implementation of more and more automation,
    • the explosion of UAS, AAM and other aerial vehicles unheard of 2 years ago and compounding the complexity of the NAS
    • environmental debate about individual airports to system noise standards
    • global safety standards-pilots, AT, foreign aircraft certification, new technologies—all with a diminished FAA standing within the CAA colleagues
    • training within the FAA to meet new challenges both technical and workload
  • Ability to deal with Congress-the legislators have shown great interest in all things safety. The candidate has to be able to know when to say yes and more often/more significantly when to say NO.
  • Strong interpersonal skills—the new AOA-1 will inherit a Deputy, Chief Counsel, heads of Airports, Policy/International & External Relations—all owe someone else for selecting them to this political position. There will be, and/or the new AOA-1 will have to select, a new head of Air Traffic Organization. Plus, perhaps the most important/visible safety position—the Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety—was only recently selected. All of the AOA-1 direct reports MUST be able to function EFFECTIVELY on a person-to-person basis. The new leader needs to help facilitate the team’s intra workings.
  • Perhaps the most difficult is knowledge of the FAA’s work force. Many of the innovations which the new AOA-1 will inherit have disrupted the karma of the working rank and file. Change qua change has stressed them. New job requirements – knowledge, hours, even local—have compounded this uneasiness. From a macro basis, OPM knows that all federal employees have tired of criticisms of career staff.
    • To effect change, the candidate ideally would have existing contacts throughout the FAA’s 45,000 employees. Obviously, it would be impossible to know all, but to have developed a network of career employees across the agency’s multiple functions would provide useful feedback mechanism as well as a microphone to hear how/where the existing programs are being received.

This is a ridiculously demanding set search criteria; likely no one individual can meet all of these needs. The Office of AOA-1 is really a team and some of these characteristics may have to reside in the people closest to the candidates.

Well-connected candidates likely are not the answer in spite of their luminescence. This is an appointment which will be in place for 5 years and will have incredible impact on US  aviation through 2027 and beyond. Please search for someone who can address more than the Boeing issues. That problem emerged because of the underlying issues mentioned above.




Will This United Pilot Be the Next FAA Administrator?

Ted Reed, Skift

Wed, February 23, 2022, 12:50 PM·3 min read

Dickson to Boccieri

Steve Dickson is leaving behind a legacy focused heavily on safety as the departing Federal Aviation Administration Administrator. Dickson announced his resignation last week, leaving the aviation industry buzzing about who would replace the former Delta pilot in perhaps one of the most critical regulatory positions on the globe.

“We operate the safest aerospace system in the world, we want to make sure that it stays that way,” Dickson said in a farewell video last Friday.

That pretty much summarizes the task ahead for Dickson’s replacement who will face unparalleled challenges coming out of the pandemic. So, who should succeed Dickson and tackle the issues?

Hersman Mims Sullenberger

At least four names are being mentioned, according to aviation sources. The names include Deborah Hersman, the former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board; Bradley Mims, deputy administrator of the FAA; Sully Sullenberger, the US Airways hero pilot who was confirmed in December to be the U.S. representative on the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization board, the United Nations air safety body,.

And then there is John Boccieri, a United Airlines pilot and former U.S. Congressman from Ohio.

A Washington insider, who asked not to be named, said that Josh Earnest, a former spokesman for President Barack Obama and now United Airlines chief communications officer, is likely advocating with White House officials for an appointment that United approves.

Dickson was a former Delta Air Lines pilot. Delta and United pilots are the two largest groups in the Air Line Pilots Association, the powerful pilots’ union.

Todd Insler, chairman of the United chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association, is an advocate for Boccieri.

The position of administrator is complex,” Insler said. “It deals not only with piloting and the certification of pilots, commercial and other pilots, but also with manufacturers, government and thousands of FAA employees. It needs to be filled by someone who checks more than one box and who is a known quantity.”

Insler said Boccieri is not only a former U.S. Congressman, but is also a Cleveland-based United 737 first officer and a vice commander of the Pittsburgh Air Reserve base. “His resume shows he is qualified and competent,” Insler said. “We need someone who knows the ins and outs of government and the ins and outs of safety,” Insler said.

Industry officials say whoever takes the top FAA job, it will be imperative to carry on Dickson’s work.

“We can’t squander the momentum” that comes from Dickson’s work, said Dennis Tajer, spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American Airlines pilots.

“This is about ensuring that aviation safety comes first, and the commercial interests follow,” Tajer said. “The trend has been set and it must be bolstered. We’ve learned that too cozy a relationship with commercial interests can only lead to tragedy.”

Dickson’s two and a half years on the job may have been among the toughest ever for an FAA administrator. He battled Boeing. He battled Covid and disruptive passengers and anti-maskers. He battled cellphone giants AT&T and Verizon on the rollout of 5G cell phone service, perilously close to airports.

He may be winning all three battles, but it is clear that none have ended….

FAA headquarters


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4 Comments on "What the new AOA-1 needs as a skill set per OPM HRSES [ersatz]"

  1. Elevate one of the Associate Administrators to the post. That’s the only logical path forward, and the one that will keep the FAA from spinning out of control.

  2. My own bias advocates for the Administrator to have independence from those in Executive Branch, Legislative Branch and “interest Groups” aka other Stakeholders such that She/He can exercise this critical role. Absent those degrees of freedom the selectee, however talented, cannot materially alter the FAA trajectory.

  3. Such total independence, as Frank seeks, likely devoids the AOA-1 from being able to exercise technical judgement. There have been a number of AOA-1s with industry experience and none, to my view albeit “biased”, failed to make the right decision because of that experience.

  4. I can’t argue with the broad factors outline by OPM: experience managing a large organization (45K employees, $18.5 budget); knowledge of the FAA workforce; technical competence; (strong) interpersonal skills; political skills (to deal with Congress … and DOT). What isn’t on the list is leadership. Perhaps its implicit, along with communication skills. The real trick will be how to evaluate those factors as embodied in a given candidate. Of the four candidates mentioned, only Mims has the “large organization management” experience. Hersman has political skills and understands the safety mission of the FAA. Mims and Hersman know the FAA structure and workforces. Boccieri does’t seem to have commanded even an air wing, much less anything approaching the FAA’s size and scope. And Sully … a sentimental favorite, to be sure, but again, without any experience in managing a large organization. Bottom line: Mims checks more boxes, followed by Hersman. Boccieri and Sully are long shots.

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